Sunday, April 17, 2005

If It Walks Like a Duck and Talks Like a Duck...

Many of you have heard the term "carnal Christian" used to describe someone who has made an initial commitment to Christ--perhaps reciting the "sinner's prayer" at Bible camp at the age of five--yet goes on to live a life of sin. Those who believe in the existence of such a Christian typically hold to the view of "once saved, always saved," allowing for the possibility that the regeneration of one's soul doesn't necessarily translate into a noticable change in one's behavior.

On one hand, I can appreciate the logic behind this position. They at least recognize the fact that true believers are eternally secure. Jesus himself reminded us of this when he said, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:29).

On the other hand, this reasoning is scripturally unsound. It ignores the concept of "perseverance of the saints," which, as Dr. C. Matthew McMahon points out, teaches that once a person is saved "he will continue to be saved and show forth the fruits of that salvation." This is borne out in Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

Perhaps a better description of this process is "preservation of the saints." 2 Timothy 4:18 says, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring [or, as some versions read, "preserve"] me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen." In other words, the One who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world is not only capable of sustaining us, He will sustain us.

As much as we would like to believe that everyone who makes a conscious decision to "accept Christ" receives eternal life, scripture is clear that is not the case. After all, when it comes to recognizing Jesus as God, "Even the demons believe--and shudder!" (James 2:19).

Nothing illustrates this better than the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:
    "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear."
Jesus goes on to explain the parable in verses 18-23:
    "Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
It is only the true believers who bear fruit. Some may have a stronger faith than others--they may even be more spiritually gifted--but all believers bear the fruit of their salvation.

Still, some will actually use the Parable of the Sower as evidence of the existence of carnal Christians. They will say that while the plants that were choked by the thorns bore no fruit, they didn't die. So it is with some Christians.

But note what Jesus says in John 15:1-8:
    "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."
So, is there such a thing as a carnal Christian? Not according to the Bible. All Christians struggle with sin to one degree or another (Rom. 7), but true believers at least have the desire to do what is right in God's eyes. Indeed, they are pained by the remains of sin and depravity in their lives. The same cannot be said of those who embrace sin and resign themselves to a life that is contrary to the Word of God.

Do not be deceived. If it walks like an unbeliever and talks like an unbeliever, chances are it's an unbeliever.

1 comment:

Doug McHone said...

Anyone who places their faith in the OSAS rule needs to read 1 John for themselves. Great reminder!

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